nOCD, an ERP App/Hero

If you’ve spent time around this blog, you know that I wrestled my life and freedom back from the clutches of obsessive-compulsive disorder in 2008. (Read more about my story at jackieleasommers.com/OCD).

From the onset of my symptoms to my diagnosis: 15 years.
From my diagnosis to appropriate treatment (ERP): 5 years.
From treatment to freedom: 12 weeks. (<–Read that again please.)

Exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy is powerful, friends.

On average, it takes OCD sufferers 14-17 years to get the correct diagnosis and treatment. This is not okay. 

So many OCD sufferers cannot afford treatment. In some countries, ERP therapy is simply not available. In fact, in some countries, the stigma associated with having a brain disorder like OCD is so strong that sufferers would not dare admit to needing help. This is not okay. 

The creators of the nOCD app felt the same way. One contacted me and said, “Our goal is to reduce the time it takes for people with OCD to get effective treatment (from decades to minutes).” He said, “One thing advocacy has shown me is the need for OCD treatment in other countries! There are people in Bangladesh, India, etc that have literally nobody! My team is actually building a 24/7 support community within nOCD to combat this issue.”

The app is FREE and, I-hope-I-hope-I-hope, going to change the world.

Some of the very best things about this app:

nocd.jpg

Right now it’s available for iPhones, but this fall, the Android version will come out. Please check it out here. And be sure to tell me what you think!

xoxo Jackie

When It Hurts to Breathe

The stress got bad, friends. Really, really bad.

My chest was so tight. It hurt to breathe. I would wake up panicking.

I went back to my therapist. I made another appointment with my psychiatrist. But when I felt like an elephant was standing on my chest, I went into the doctor.

They don’t play around with this stuff, especially when one’s father has had triple bypass surgery. I had an immediate chest x-ray and an EKG. I just tried not to cry.

But things are fine. I mean, mostly. My x-ray was fine; my EKG was … fine-ish. My doctor felt satisfied with it, but she still wants to run it by a cardiologist.

It’s just stress. Damn. Isn’t it wild what stress can do to our bodies??

She and my therapist both said: focus on breathing.

My doctor also said: laughIt will open up your chest.

Breathe and laugh. I can do that. Right?

Even my editor told me to rest a little.

That part seems easy enough. All I want to do is sleep. I think I might have some depression issues going on or else maybe this how I get every winter. -40 degrees does little to contribute to breathing or laughing or being joyful.

anatomyBut– a bright spot– I am reading this tremendous book, The Anatomy of Story by John Truby. I’m only two chapters in and it’s sort of changing my life. It’s such a beautiful, deep, thorough way to look at writing a story. It helps that I’ve been thinking of my story and these characters for about a year and a half. It would maybe be overwhelming to use this book to drum something up from scratch, but this way, it feels really productive and thoughtful. I’m loving it and highly recommend it so far.

I really wish that I could just take a month off of work to take care of myself. But that’s not an option, so I have to work self-care into the nooks and crannies of life. I need to breath, laugh, and rest. Love that prescription!

 

Today’s Surprise: the Anxiety/Depression Test Scores of the Blogger

So, this is interesting.

My therapist switched to a new practice, so even though I’ve been meeting with her for around a year, I had to fill out all new intake forms for the new place, including taking the Burns Anxiety Inventory and the Burns Depression Checklist.

How’d I score?

Anxiety: 41. This puts me in the “severe anxiety” category (31-50), which surprised me. I definitely thought I’d be lower than that since I’m handling anxiety about a hundred times better than this time last year. That said, last year, I would have certainly fallen into the “extreme anxiety or panic” category (51-99). Do you remember when I was having multiple panic attacks* a week? I’m so grateful to have moved on from that. I should be getting my revision feedback from my editor on book #2 any day now, and I pray it won’t spike! I’ve learned a lot of good tools in the past year!

*I never knew if this was strictly what they were, but panic is what I was feeling, and it manifested itself in very physical ways. Is that a panic attack?

anxiety scores

Depression: 21. This puts me just barely into the “moderate depression” category (21-30), one point away from “mild depression.” I was kind of surprised this wasn’t lower too! I can’t tell you how much mentally healthier I am than during the days when OCD ruled the roost.

Themes that emerged were my fears of criticism and disapproval, concerns about inadequacy and inferiority.

My co-worker said she was fascinated. “Here you have done so much– written a book— and yet you worry so much about inadequacy!” It’s true. It’s a thorn in my side. I need to learn to compete against myself and not others (cough, cough, my writer’s envy), but I don’t know how. Something to talk about with my therapist, once I start meeting with at the new place, I guess!

My co-worker also said, “You have these fears, but you don’t let them stop you.”

“Most of the time,” I stipulated.

It’s true. I am scared a lot, but courage is fear that keeps showing up to work.

So, while the test scores were surprising to me, I can work with them. God can work with them. He has and will.

A Portrait of Uncertainty, Before & After

SONY DSCUncertainty, Before ERP: intolerable agony. Even a sliver of uncertainty would collapse my entire self. It was torture, hell on earth. I didn’t think I could stand it for one more minute. And, in fact, because of that intense pressing need to erase the uncertainty, I’d usually do something to alleviate the ugly anxiety … but compulsions prevent you from realizing that you can live one more minute. And then another. And as the minutes stack up, you start to get used to the cold water. In fact, it stops feeling icy.

Uncertainty After ERP: uncomfortable still, but necessary. These days uncertainty feels like a built-in, expected part of life. It’s no one’s favorite thing to experience, but I experience it much the same way as the general population. It’s not an emergency; it’s just an inconvenience. And because I learned that I could survive– and even thrive– by embracing uncertainty, I actually love it more than most people.

Uncertainty isn’t the enemy. ERP can set you free.
Go to www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD-help for more details.

 

Image credit: Mark Turnauckas

What Does Compassion Look Like?

Heart in the stone fenceMany, many OCD sufferers have been contacting me lately: they want to share their story, seek advice, and– in many cases– seek reassurance. Do you really think this is OCD?

My answer is pretty standard for those I believe are truly dealing with OCD. I tell them I’m not a mental health professional but that, in my experience, what they are describing sounds a lot like other cases of OCD. I encourage them to seek out ERP therapy.

They write back: So you really do think this is OCD?

But I know this routine.

It’s usually a compulsion, their asking repeatedly.

I explain this to them, remind them that I’ve already told them what I think.

I just want to make sure, they say. You really, really think this is OCD?

I explain again that their asking me over and over is not healthy for them and that they need to do ERP.

A week later, they’ll message me and ask again. I become a broken record, refusing to give in to their compulsions and doling out tougher and tougher love:

* I’ve told you what I believe and what is the solution. I have nothing more to add.
* Can you see that you’ve asked me X times now? That is a compulsion– seeking reassurance– and I’m not going to give in to it. It’ s unhealthy for you.

Or, in some cases, I won’t respond. What more is there to say?

This troubles me.

On the one hand, I know what it’s like to be gripped with the incredible fear and doubt of OCD. I know how it dials up to a fever pitch, and how desperately you just want. some. relief.

But I also know that compulsions are a short-term non-solution that only exacerbates things. I know that ERP therapy is the long-term solution.

It puts me in a really rough spot. I fear that I come across as cold, hard-hearted, tough, even rude. The years since I underwent ERP therapy have brought such intense clarity to my thinking that sometimes it’s hard for me to empathize in the same way I once could. Don’t get me wrong. I remember the 20 years of OCD hell. I haven’t forgotten. But the almost seven years since my own successful treatment have made me more confident in just about every way– including in what the appropriate treatment for OCD is. I won’t budge on it. I won’t recommend a band-aid. I can’t.

And I can’t cater to compulsions. I did that for myself for too many heartbreaking years, and I won’t give in to something that perpetuates prison for other sufferers.

In my desperate desire for their freedom, I think I come across too tough.

I don’t know the answer to this. I’m frustrated: with myself, with others.

But I know that compulsions kept me locked up and ERP set me free. That’s the line I draw in the sand. Maybe I’m being too tough on hurting souls. But I would be a liar if I gave out band-aids to cancer patients. That’s why I refuse to parry to compulsions.

For those of you involved in advocacy, is this a problem that you’ve had to face? How have you managed it with grace and compassion? I want to fight the good fight, but I feel so frustrated and tired.

This week, I counted up all the emails that the OCD community and I have batted around for the last two years, and it was near 2500. I’ve decided that– for the time being– I can no longer respond to these emails. It’s pushing me into an unhealthy place. I closed the messaging option on my Facebook page and posted this message on my Contact page:

Due to an overwhelming number of emails about OCD, HOCD, ERP, and the like, I am no longer able to respond to personal messages about these matters; I’m not a therapist, and though it honors me that you’d share your story with me, I’ve found that I am not in a place where I can handle such stories in a healthy way. I invite you to read my message to you atwww.jackieleasommers.com/OCD-help. It is everything that I would say to you in an email. I wish you all the best as you pursue freedom from OCD. Godspeed.

These actions have given me a sense of both freedom and failure, but I hope people will understand.

OCD: A Simple Definition

When I talk about OCD, I typically start with defining it. “It’s all in the name,” I say. “Obsessive. Compulsive. Disorder.”

 

OBSESSIVE

OCD causes unwanted, intrusive, repeated thoughts that induce intense anxiety.

COMPULSIVE

To alleviate the anxiety, an OCD sufferer performs some action or ritual.

DISORDER

The obsessions and compulsions cause harm and anxiety and disrupt daily life.

 

When someone asks me, “Do I have OCD?” I ask for their story and listen for all three parts.

Note: sometimes compulsions are a little harder to recognize because they might be internal and hard to see, but they’re there– I’m what’s called a “Pure-O,” but I still have(/had, thanks to ERP!) compulsions such as seeking reassurance, confession, and repetitive prayer.

 

A New OCD Page

help word in metal typeFrom time to time, life becomes so overwhelming that I have to temporarily remove my email address from my website. It’s that case right now. Between busting my butt on my next novel (especially after I changed story ideas late in the game!), trying to be healthier, working full-time as a recruiter, and trying to be a good friend, daughter, and sister, my life is pretty crazy right now.

I recognize that I’m not the only resource available for OCD sufferers, but even so, I count it as an honor that people would be willing to share their stories with me. It always hurts me to take my email address down. In its stead, I’ve added a new page on my website: OCD Help. It’s exactly what I would tell someone who approached me for advice, and I hope it will be helpful for you– or for someone else that you’d like to pass it along to.

Also, please note that I have a compendium of OCD posts here, with topics that range from ERP, HOCD, OCD & Christianity to medication, OCD & children, and remission. I hope you’ll check it out.

Blessings on you all during this season.

Is what I fear possible?

uncertaintyAhhh, that’s the big question for those of us who suffer from OCD!

If you ask your friends, they will probably try to reassure you and say no.  This feels good. For ten minutes. Then you want to ask someone again.

If you really want to heal from your OCD, you have to start answering that question with a yes.  Through ERP, my refrain became, “It’s possible but not likely.”

I know you think uncertainty is your enemy. It’s not.

It’s actually your liberator.

For (lots!) more about the ERP therapy that teaches you to accept uncertainty, check out jackieleasommers.com/OCD.

Image credit: Russ Allison Loar

The Darkest Days

artwork  in retro style,  woman and cup of teaThere is a little Caribou Coffee in Long Lake, Minnesota, where I sat one morning since I’d arrived too early to my visit to Orono High School. I stared at my steaming hot cocoa and repeated to myself: You are going to hell. 

Swallow that down, I told myself. You are going to hell, and there is nothing you can do to change it. This realization is your eternal reality.

In the car, I’d been listening to “Spirit” by Switchfoot on repeat: I’ve found all that I want, all that I long for, in You.

It was true then. It’s true now. But in those days, it was a truth that I imagined fell on deaf ears. Spirit, come be my joy.  It was the cry of my heart, but I knew I was damned and that joy would be forever inaccessible to me.

I can’t detail exactly how creepy it is become a cardboard person.

To ride the rollercoaster to the deepest depths and then to climb off there.

A reader asked me if I’d ever felt like God wasn’t with me through the storms of my life.  Have I felt that way? Yes, intensely.

But I was wrong.

Praise God I was wrong.

All these years later, God has stormed in, torn off my blindfold, wrapped me in his arms, and repeated truth to me till I came to believe it.

Do I still have moments where I doubt? Yes.

But my anchor holds.

I wrote this to remind myself of the truth– the truth that no disorder or devil can withhold from me because my God is stronger:

anchor manifesto

Author/Editor Disagreements

disagreementWhat happens when an author and her editor disagree?

I’ll admit that not knowing the answer to this question is what started my intense bouts of panic, which started almost immediately after I was offered my book deal.

Now, nearly one year later (the first panic “attack”– I’m not sure it was a full-blown panic attack, but that is the best way that I can think to describe it– occurred on November 22, 2013), I have an answer to that question, though, of course, I can only answer from the perspective of my own partnership with my brilliant and beloved editor at Katherine Tegen Books.

She let me win.

Granted, I took nearly every suggestion she gave. She really is a genius when it comes to YA literature, and though feedback often stings, in almost every case, I could see why she made the suggestions, and when I took them, I loved the results.

There was only one thing– and it’s a big SPOILER, so I can’t share yet!– where she and I were on opposite sides of the fence, and I stressed and stressed and stressed.  Panic rolled off me in waves. I was sick over it, and cried my heart out to my team, prayed for a solution from God. Finally, I just explained my reasoning for my decision, detailing how important it was to me, and my editor said, Then let’s do it your way. I get it now. But we’ll work on it.

And we did.

And Truest is better for it.

She also let me win several smaller victories too, once I explained my reasoning. She has been so, so respectful of the fact that this is my story– my baby— and she wants me to be happy with it.

I am.

You guys, I cannot wait for you to read my story.